Trifles Which Try the Temper: 1892



The incurably tidy person in a home is almost as tiresome us the inveterately untidy. The one puts every possession you have into some perfectly proper place, but one which it would never have occurred to you to choose for it; the other never can spend ten minutes in any room without bestrewing it with unnecessary odds and ends— both are unreasonably trying to the temper. The friend who talks every trivial subject through and through, plagues us just quite as heartily as the person from whom no more than a bald comment on the most notable occurrence can be extracted.

Worse than either is she who repeats every remark we make, by way of answer, “The Browns were quite well, were they?” “Mrs Jones’ cold was worse, was it?” “You went to the Smiths’, did you?” till your harmless speech is transformed in your mind to a savage one.

Who does not know the worry of an acquaintance who finishes every sentence before you are halfway through it? “I had a delightful afternoon yesterday—” you begin. “—At the twopenny concert? Oh, yes, it was lovely,” your visitor says, when you did not even know there was such a thing as a twopenny concert! Or else, “I think this weather is—” “Atrocious— yes, it really is,” says your friend. You were going to say “delightfully bracing” but that is nothing.

The people whose tastes are never the same for six months together are tiresome, too. An elderly visitor, perhaps, to whom one wishes to make the house agreeable, comes to stay, and mentions that he always sleeps with his head at the bottom of the bed and his feet where the pillows usually are, and things are so arranged for him. Before his next visit one gives lessons to the housemaid, and the room is prepared amidst the gigglings of the maids in this eccentric fashion. He comes, and in five minutes rings the bell, and with upraised eye-glass inquires why his couch is thus topsy-turvied?  He has changed, and forgotten the fad of yore, but it is a “little way” that is provoking to his hostess. A lady who has travelled a great deal takes lemon in her milkless and sugarless tea. We bear it in mind, and when she comes a year later arrange and present cut lemons with pardonable pride. Alas! “Milk, if you please, and plenty of sugar,” says the dame in an injured tone before a roomful of people. Her whilom “little way” has faded from her mind.

The people who find some fault with everything you do, whose praise always has the sting of a “but” at the end which transmutes the whole into a reproof, the people who ask your advice, request addresses, patterns, information, lists of books, and never take any scrap of all for use, are provoking. The acquaintances who talk of what has befallen Augustus, Wilhelmina, Lady Flora, Basil, Cyprus, Amelia, or Lord Eustace, as if you knew all about them, when you have no faintest idea of their personality, plague you much. The girl who never seems to enjoy any amusement you provide for her, and who never observes such small courtesies as writing to acknowledge a gift, or recording her safe return after a visit, the one who covers sheets of paper with accounts of the merest trifles, the person who is effusively friendly at one time and apparently forgets your name at another: all these things provoke one to disproportionate wrath.

Bruce Herald, 24 June 1892: p 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: So many things these days provoke one to disproportionate wrath, although “disproportionate” is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. Mrs Daffodil recently spoke to a businesswoman who, twice in the space of a single day, was forced to spend an hour negotiating a network of electronically-voiced operators, only to find, in the end, that the department she required was closed.  Why, she wonders, was it not possible for the mechanical gate-keeper to explain that important detail at the very beginning of the conversation? She has penned a strong letter to the Times and to the companies involved, but, of course, such trifles matter only to those who are obliged to waste their valuable time dealing with the incompetent.

In the 10th century, a Japanese court lady named Sei Shonagon kept a delightfully waspish diary, including a list of “Hateful things.”  A few excerpts show that there is nothing new under the sun:

One is in a hurry to leave, but one’s visitor keeps chattering away. If it is someone of no importance, one can get rid of him by saying, “You must tell me all about it next time”; but, should it be the sort of visitor whose presence commands one’s best behavior, the situation is hateful indeed.

A man who has nothing in particular to recommend him discusses all sorts of subjects at random as though he knew everything.

One is in the middle of a story when someone butts in and tries to show that he is the only clever person in the room. Such a person is hateful, and so, indeed, is anyone, child or adult, who tries to push himself forward.

One is telling a story about old times when someone breaks in with a little detail that he happens to know, implying that one’s own version is inaccurate — disgusting behavior!

One is just about to be told some interesting piece of news when a baby starts crying.

Mrs Daffodil would be fascinated to hear what “little ways” provoke her readers to wrath. Mrs Daffodil believes that the proper term in the States is “pet peeve,” which seems both utterly inadequate and yet apropros for the ordeal of being “pecked to death by ducks.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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